I visited the McNair Street house of Choo Kok Hoe, 40, and what I saw was sheer destruction by Penang Municipal Council and North East District Office workers four days ago who wrecked all the personal properties and belongings in the house, whether air-conditioners, paintings, altar, idols, furnishings or roofings to make the building uninhabitable.
What is shocking at the wrecking of Choo’s house is that Choo was never served with a notice of eviction and secondly, the role of the Penang Municipal Council and North East District Office workers in carrying out the eviction and destruction of properties last Wednesday.
It is regrettable that Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon had not personally visited McNair Street and Noordin Street to understand the situation although this was formerly his parliamentary constituency in 1986.
Tsu Koon should conduct a full investigation as to how the MPPP and North East District Office workers could be involved in such wanton destruction of private properties last Wednesday.
What happened last Wednesday was the "curtain raiser" of the
human and socio-economic tragedies that would be enacted as a result
of ill-planned repeal of the Rent Control Act.
I call on Tsu Koon to take personal responsibility to minimise his millennium betrayal of the people of Penang by upholding justice and immediately providing alternative affordable accommodation to those thrown out on to the streets as a result of ill-prepared rent decontrol of prewar premises in Penang.
During the recent general election campaign, in a bid to woo voters of Penang, particularly in Tanjong, Bukit Bendera and Jelutong, Tsu Koon promised to meet the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to seek an extension of the Rent Control Act before its repeal on 31st December 1999.
In an interview with The Sun, which appeared on polling day on Nov. 29, 1999, he said: "I still personally feel that there is a need to review the decision. I would like to ask for a possible extension…not because the state government has not done anything but because of the effects of the economic crisis and the fact that some owners are not willing to compromise and are going to evict tenants."
He added: "Everybody agrees that it has to come but not everyone agrees on the time frame and how to manage the transitional period."
After the Barisan Nasional landslide victory in the tenth general election on Nov. 29, 1999, however, Tsu Koon cleanly forgot his election promise on the eve of polling day that he would meet Mahathir after the general election to seek an extension of the Rent Control Act before its repeal on 31st December 1999.
In fact, he even changed his views that he personally felt that there was a need to review the decision for the rent decontrol to come into full effect on 31.12.1999.
On 18th December 1999, Tsu Koon told reporters after the swearing-in of the Penang state assemblymen that the Rent Control Act would not be extended and problems faced by affected tenants would be solved "administratively".
In the Sunday Star dated December 19, 1999, Tsu Koon was quoted as saying that the Federal Government had made no indication to extend the Act.
Tsu Koon said: "I have asked Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to reconsider our appeal (to extend the Act) when he came here on Nov. 27 and another time when I met him recently.
"After considering feedback from assemblymen and the fact that the number of affected tenants was not overwhelmingly large, the top leadership felt the problem can be solved administratively."
Why didn’t Tsu Koon admit straightaway that after the general election on Nov. 29, he never met Mahathir to discuss the possibility of the extension of the Rent Control Act.
What Tsu Koon said on December 18, 1999 was completely different from what he told The Sun on polling eve on November 28, 1999.
What made Tsu Koon suddenly take the view that the socio-economic repercussions of the rent control repeal could be "resolved administratively" when three weeks earlier, he personally felt that there should be an extension of the rent control repeal?
What made the difference between Nov. 28 and Dec. 18 for a total change of Tsu Koon’s attitude on the problems of rent control repeal was that Tsu Koon had been sworn in as Penang Chief Minister for the third time and he need not bother any more about the plight of the affected tenants of pre-war premises.
This is the best illustration that a strong DAP in the Penang State Assembly is the best guarantee for the rights of the people of Penang. It is ironic but true that if the DAP had won one-third of the State Assembly seats on Nov. 29, 1999, it would have forced the Barisan Nasional government to rethink its whole strategy on rent decontrol, especially at a time when it could not ensure that there would be a minimum of socio-economic hardships and dislocations of the 60,000 people in 12,600 pre-war premises in Penang affected by the ill-prepared repeal.
Tsu Koon and the Barisan Nasional State Government cannot sit idly by
while human tragedies continue to be enacted in Penang as a result of ill-prepared
rent decontrol, and they must ensure that a safety net is immediately put
in place to minimise socio-economic hardships and dislocations for the
affected tenants, that justice and fairplay are not trampled
upon in the rent decontrol exercise and that every family could
be rehoused with affordable accommodation without being forced into the
In the New Straits Times of September 27, 1999, Tsu Koon said the 60,000 tenants in rent-controlled premises would be offered alternative housing under a special package drawn up by the State Government. Let Tsu Koon state how many of the 60,000 affected tenants have benefited from this "special package" of alternative housing offered by the State Government.
On 27th December 1999, Tsu Koon tabled a motion for the State government to apply for a RM80 million loan from the Federal Government to help renovate and redevelop premises affected by the Rent Control (Repeal) Act 1997. In introducing the motion, which was later passed, Tsu Koon said an initial sum of RM20 million from the 25-year loan would be withdrawn next year for use in the next five years.
Tsu Koon said that in addition to the RM80 million loan from the Federal government, the State Government and the Penang Island Municipal Council would also allocate RM6 million and RM14 million respectively for the same purpose.
The fund, available from next January, was for owners of rent-control buildings who wished to renovate or re-develop their premises. However, there must be agreement between the owners and the tenants. Once a property has been redeveloped, the tenant should agree to a new rental rate.
Is this so-called RM100 million re-development and renovation fund for the rent-controlled premises going to provide meaningful help to the 60,000 people in the 12,600 pre-war premises?
The money from the Federal Government’s RM80 million loan has not been drawn, and the State Government’s RM6 million and the MPPP’s RM14 million have not been released, but tenants are already being evicted and made homeless. Are these redevelopment and renovation funds going to be processed and released after the tenants had all been evicted?
Can Tsu Koon give facts and figures how many tenants have been protected by this RM100 million redevelopment and renovation fund, as the Rent Control (Repeal) Act 1997 had already come into force since yesterday - or is the Penang Chief Minister unable to give any figures?
What Tsu Koon is doing is nothing less than looking for water and water-hoses after a fire had already reached the eyebrows!
One of the biggest failures of the Penang State Government is in its failure to ensure that there are adequate low-cost and low-medium houses to absorb the 60,000 people who would be affected by the rent decontrol of the pre-war premises in Penang.
Although the Penang State Government after Tsu Koon became Chief Minister had approved a total of 46 projects for low- and low-medium cost houses, comprising 46,246 units, only 9,300 units are ready and occupied while 1,000 are still awaiting occupancy certificates. Another 23,000 units are currently under construction while construction for another 12,800 has still to be started.
In refusing to secure Federal Government agreement for an extension of the Rent Control Repeal Act because of the Barisan Nasional landslide electoral victory, when he was fully aware that the decontrol process had been so ill-prepared without an efficient plan to minimise socio-economic hardships of the affected tenants, Tsu Koon had committed a millennium betrayal of the people of Penang.
He should now minimise his millennium betrayal by upholding justice and immediately providing affordable alternative accommodation to affected tenants so that they could get fair play and are not thrown into the streets in Georgetown.